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Guerilla Open Access Manifesto

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Guerilla Open Access Manifesto

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz, July 2008, Eremo, Italy


The “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” champions a progressive strategy for sharing knowledge, critiquing the restrictive practices of major publishers who confine valuable scientific and cultural content behind paywalls. Crafted by activists driven by a desire to correct global information disparities, the manifesto advocates for civil disobedience through the free and widespread sharing of academic resources by those who have access. The manifesto questions the ethics of intellectual property laws that favor corporate profits over collective enlightenment and calls for a united effort to freely distribute information, aiming to establish a just and universally accessible wealth of knowledge.


  1. Educate Yourself and Others

    • Understand the Issues: Learn about the challenges and barriers in accessing scientific and cultural materials. Resources like scholarly articles, educational websites, and books about open access can be beneficial.

    • Spread Awareness: Share your knowledge with peers, colleagues, and through social media. Discuss the importance of open access and the impact of paywalls on education and research.

  2. Advocate for Open Access

    • Support Open Access Journals: Whenever possible, publish your research in open access journals. Encourage your academic institutions to prioritize subscriptions to open access resources.

    • Lobby for Change: Engage with policymakers and educational leaders to advocate for laws and policies that promote open access and fair use.

  3. Utilize and Support Alternative Platforms

    • Use Open Repositories: Platforms like arXiv, PubMed Central, and others allow researchers to publish their work freely. Utilize these platforms both for publishing and accessing research.

    • Contribute to Community Efforts: Support initiatives and platforms that are dedicated to providing free access to information, such as Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive.

  4. Participate in Scholarly Sharing

    • Share Your Work: If you’re in a position to do so, share copies of your papers directly on your website, or through academic social networks like ResearchGate or

    • Help Others Access Materials: Participate in networks where you can fulfill requests for academic papers from those who cannot afford them.

  5. Support Technological Advancements

    • Develop and Use Tools: Support or contribute to the development of tools that bypass paywalls legally, like browser extensions or apps that facilitate access to scholarly materials.

    • Embrace and Promote Encryption and Anonymity Tools: Use tools that protect privacy and ensure security for users who share and access information.

  6. Engage in Civil Disobedience (Carefully)

    • Consider the Risks: Understand the legal implications of sharing copyrighted material without authorization.

    • Choose Safe Methods: If you decide to participate in guerilla open access activities, do so in a manner that minimizes legal risks for yourself and others. Use anonymous networks and secure communication methods to share materials.

  7. Build a Community

    • Join Forces: Connect with like-minded individuals and organizations. Collaborative efforts can lead to a stronger impact.

    • Educate and Include the Next Generation: Teach students and young researchers about the importance of open access and encourage them to participate in these initiatives from the start of their careers.